Monday, January 30, 2012

Self Care? Or self-indulgence?

Curt is away again. When I am alone, it doesn’t seem worth it to cook a meal or prepare a table. But I still get hungry. So easy, in the press of getting other things done, to grab a few cookies and get on with it. And when hungry again, to grab some more.

Self-care has been on my mind. Mostly because I don't always do a good job of it. Out of shape and undisciplined in habits of rest and food, I begin to see that I am much better at self-indulgence.

It stands to reason. I come from the most self-indulgent people-group. Americans don’t just heat or cool the room, we heat and cool the whole house. Our houses are loaded with closet space and garages so that we can put away all that stuff we don’t need. More and more homes have cavernous garages to hold the extra cars. There are drive-through windows on every corner for burgers, tacos, and fancy coffees, and our cars are designed with multiple cup-holders so that we needn’t interrupt our eating and drinking when we drive to work or to the shop or to our fitness trainer. I think I’ll stop here and return to my point.

Self-indulgence turns on desire, sensual gratification, and gaining the attentions of others as we compete for reputation, power, influence, and status. Luxuries become needs. For believers, Kingdom-building (the furthering of God’s priorities on earth) becomes small-k kingdom-building as we position ourselves as lords and ladies of personal little fiefdoms of “ministry” or “family.” Hospitality becomes entertaining, or maybe even networking. Beauty becomes display.
Self-indulgence is often lazy, wanting the quick and easy way or instant gratification.

Self-indulgence rarely notices the unseen, the presence and goodness of God, of the Lord Jesus in our midst.

Self-care, in contrast, is a form of stewardship of body and soul as gifts and resources. Self-care measures what is needed to be strong for the task and emotionally poised for equanimity and outward-focused compassion. Self-care exercises patience with the limitations of body, time, or circumstances. It nourishes and equips towards worship and service.

Self-care, it dawns on me, is another matter entirely.

Yet the competing voices of world and flesh so easily draw us to confuse the two. “You deserve a break.” “Me-time.” “Retail therapy.” Many of our real-life actions may be one or the other, self-care or self-indulgence, depending on those oh-so-murky realms of motive and attitude. Is my “need” for time alone avoidance and escapism, withdrawal from compassion in favor of ivory-tower living? Or is it vital to renew and equip me to return to the fray with the stamina and empathy I need to serve others? Is a bigger house filled with lovely things a form of hoarding and prestige, or a reflection of the rest and beauty of heaven freely offered to whatever weary souls God may bring?

When I rise before dawn and prepare coffee, candles and incense, do I do it simply to indulge my senses and my habit, or do I make these actions in conscious preparation for worship in Your Presence, Lord?

For these days alone, I explore a new discipline of mindfulness towards meals and my body. In place of that handful of whatever eaten over the sink, I rise from early prayer to prepare soft-boiled egg, and home-made bread with the olive oil from my trees. I squeeze the juice from a couple of oranges, and put a slice of the lemon from my garden in a cup of hot water. I make a plate, grab a cloth napkin, and light a candle. And as I do these simple things, I rejoice in the miracle of chicken and tree, yeast and oven. I lift my eyes from the food to the Giver of the food, the sheltered space, and the time to prepare it. I am nourished and filled. 


ROBERTA said...

love this. reminds me of our conversation over dinner so many months ago in sequim. becoming more mindful of what and how we consume food is a sacred spiritual practice. Just as we receive the Eucharist in a sacred way, setting our tables and offering gratitude for our food is a way of slowing down, remaining present and preparing our souls for the work God has given each of us - to love, and love and love.....

Jeri Bidinger said...

Thanks, Roberta. Yes, that conversation came to my mind, too. Somehow the practice really does lift "eating alone" into "eating with Jesus."

Kathleen Overby said...

This made me smile and sigh deep. Spa for the Soul in a post. You're on my list of "women who wear out aprons". Hospitable heart and hearth. Hugs.

Susan said...

Having been raised in a legalistic sect which discourages any focus on 'self', I find self care difficult. I've learned, however, that w/o loving & taking care of myself, there is nothing left to give. I'm a work in progress!

(PS - I remember a time when our cars didn't have cup holders b/c one did not eat in one's car. Imagine that!)

Jeri Bidinger said...

Ah, Susan. I remember those days--on all counts. I wasn't part of a sect, but was a never-quite-good-enough child of alcoholic parents. I know that they genuinely believed their refusal to show approval would cause me to reach further and higher. Dad still believes that. But, oh, the wounding, and the guilty sense that the problems of the world (or at least my home) might be resolved if I could somehow just be good enough or do enough.

Having said that, I wonder what wounds my children carry from my fallen efforts at parenting. I know a few, but surely not everything.

Bless you, dear one!